Stephani's Letters Home
From India

Between Alf in Bangkok and Notes from Bhutan

November 28-29, 2000

Tuesday Night
November 28, 2000
Calcutta, India

Robin, Beau and Shane,

Since I am responsible for the journal for the Calcutta portion of our trip, I have decided the easiest way to do this was to have my e-mail to you all also be my journal entry.

Hope that all is well at home. As you might have guessed, I have arrived safely. The trip to Delhi from New York on Air India was uneventful which, as I always think, is definitely a good thing. The Delhi Airport was much better than I expected. I got there around 11:30 pm. There was a large waiting area where it was a comfortable wait for Annie and Tilman. Since my plane was an hour late, we all arrived at the same time. It took Annie and Tilman a little longer to show, however, since the airline lost Annie and Tilman's luggage. One piece did arrive with them, giving that spark of hope that there may be more coming soon. We met up with Sian a little later that evening and all stayed in the airport until our 6:15 am flight the following morning to Calcutta.

We were met at the Calcutta Airport by reps from the Oberoi Hotel, where we will be staying, and Abercrombie & Kent, the company arranging this India/Bhutan trip. In their capable hands, I am certain that they will discover the whereabouts of the lost luggage.

We were provided with a tour bus to get to the hotel for just the four of us. Guess they must have heard about the amount of luggage we usually carry. The ride in from the airport was interesting and a little sad. There is so much poverty here. So many people, small children and old people alike are living in conditions that no human should.

Our hotel is in the center of Calcutta. As Annie said so well, it is like an oasis. It is a beautiful place. We were so tired when we arrived, having traveled well over 25 hours that we just ate breakfast and took naps. Tilman is my roomate for this section of the trip. She is a fantastic roommate. Although she slept soundly while the phone rang right by her ear, we all did wake up for what seemed to be a political rally coming from a loudspeaker in the park area outside our window. It went on for quite awhile.

During the ranting of the loudspeaker voice, Shamane arrived. It was so good to see her. She is doing well. Pretty much after that, we got ready for dinner and spent the rest of the evening in the Thai restaurant at the hotel. It was there that Alf and Watcharee found us. They had gotten in late in the evening. They both look great. Our group has all arrived.

So, we really didn't venture out of the hotel today. Tomorrow we have a tour planned. Will write again after that.

I miss you all.

Love,

Stephani (Mom)

Wednesday Night
November 29, 2000
Calcutta, India

Robin, Beau and Shane,

Want to let you know what is happening here. Today the seven of us toured Calcutta. We took the same bus that picked us up at the airport. Still had loads of room to spread out in the bus. Felt a little guilty at times since most all of the other buses that we encountered in Calcutta were filled to the max with people standing in the aisles.

We began our tour by visiting St. Paul's Cathedral. What stood out the most to me about this place were the rows and rows of ceiling fans. Although today was a warm and sunny day, thankfully it was not hot enough to turn on all of those fans.

Next we traveled by bus to Victoria Memorial Gardens. I always think of gardens as being filled with colorful flowers. This was not the case here. There was, however, lots of grassy land. It was more a park surrounding a large building. It did seem a bit out of place when people are living in such crowded conditions. I am taking lots of pictures.

From there we made a stop at the Ganges River, which is considered a holy river. Sian actually saw dolphin jump not far out in the river. At first we thought she was seeing things but then we all saw it. Strange place for a dolphin. Our guide also took us to a place along the river where men were participating in a family ritual where there men's heads were being shaved right before our eyes. This is something that is done once a family member dies. They then take a dip in the Ganges. Didn't look like the cleanest river but it was interesting to watch. At this same place, our guide pointed out the bowls of food that had been put out for the crows. It is thought that the spirit of the dead inhabit the body of the crows.

After seeing all of this, we got back on the bus and went to the Jain Temple. We walked around the outside taking pictures then took off our shoes and went in. It was very unique with mirrored mosiac work throughout.

Headed back to the Oberoi Grand Hotel for lunch then out again to Mother Teresa's Ashram. We saw the tomb of Mother Teresa and were then taken to the orphanage where her Sisters of Charity care for over 300 children. We were escorted by a young sister through the section were the babies were kept. It was so sad to see crib after crib lined up usually housing more than one baby. It was an extremely moving experience. Although it was so very sad seeing all of these really beautiful children massed together, we had to take heart in the fact that they were being cared for and some were being adopted. It does give a whole new prespective to the work of the Mother Teresa and the plight of the children of Calcutta.

Tomorrow, we will travel outside of the city. Don't know exactly where but will let you know. E-mail me when you get a chance to let me know what is happening there. We will be at this hotel until Friday morning so I am certain that I will be able to pick up my e-mail til then.

Love you all and miss you,

XOXOXO Mom (Stephani)

Thursday Night
November 30, 2000
Calcutta, India

Dear Robin and guys,

It has been reported that Annie and Tilman's luggage has been found although no one in our group has actually seen any of it yet.

Today we went outside of the city for our sightseeing. Our first stop was to the South section of Calcutta to tour the fish market. At the Fish MarketThis place was like no other. It was a maze of vendors selling almost every available variety of fish - with a number of chickens scattered about live in cages and cut into small pieces. There was even a bowl of chicken eyes for sale! Could hardly even look at that.

After that experience we boarded our lavish bus to head to the flower mart. Hopefully no chicken eyeballs there. As we stopped at the hotel to check our visa info, Alf opted to stay behind to read his newspaper and take in fresher smells. So the six girls and the guide continued our day's adventure.

The flower market proved to be yet another vender packed maze filled with odors much more pleasing than the previous mart and brilliant colors of reds, yellows and greens. Flowers and arrangements are bought here for every occasion from weddings to funerals.

From here we had the experience of walking over the Howrah bridge. It was packed with people streaming the opposite way, into Calcutta from a number of ferries. There were people in suits and others in skirt wraps carrying a variety of items on their heads. Some of which looked very heavy. Our tour guide was more adept at traveling through these crowds and seemed to have gotten ahead. Possibly trying to break free from his charges for a brief rest. We met up with him on the other side of the bridge. It was easy to find our big white bus among the taxis. So from here we traveled to the Botanical Gardens. Along the way, we saw a number of first time sights. One was the drying of cow "pies" pasted against the side of buildings and bridges to be dried and used later for fuel. Not much goes to waste here.

On the way, our guide received a call of an Annie and Tilman luggage sighting. There was a promise that it would be back at the hotel. Alf must have been working on the case back at the hotel. And we thought he was just reading the paper...

The Botanical Gardens are located on 269 acres a way out of Calcutta. Our guide walked us to the 200 year old Banyan tree with roots spread out over 1/4 mile. Good it had all of these supporting roots because it seemed to have lost its trunk which was destroyed by a hard fungus. Trunkless, the tree lives on.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped for a short break at the Taj Hotel then on to the Oberoi for lunch. It was here that Annie and Tilman were reunited with their luggage. Seeing them was like seeing two kids at Christmas receive the #1 gifts on their list.

After lunch, Alf and Watcharee decided to relax at the hotel while the rest of our gang boarded the bus for Belur Math to visit the temple of Ramakrishna, an Indian philosopher. The bus ride alone continues to be an experience in itself. The bus is a large white, air-conditioned vehicle that has been drawing a great deal of attention. It is designed to hold about 40 passengers and driving it is extremely difficult in the tight traffic situations we are usually involved with. Don't think most American drivers would opt for this job. When in traffic, the driver basically honks his horn and jockeys for the best lane position while competing with other, Crossing the Gangesmore crowded busses, cars, motorcycles, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, bicycles, people and sometimes even cows and some goats trying to get a bit of road space.

While traveling to our next tour site, our guide offered us a boat ride across the Ganges River to visit the Dakshineswar Kali temple which we decided was a good idea. As we discovered, the Ganges had more than our boat floating in it. Also, there didn't seem to be any other tourists at both of the temples we visited. Seems the main attraction was Annie, Tilman, Sian, Shamane and me. We often looked up to see ourselves surrounded by curious onlookers.

So, guys, I hope to be able to find AOL access to keep in contact as we travel through Bhutan beginning tomorrow. This will, however, be my last journal entry as I turn the task of journal writing over to the most capable, experienced hands of the next in the list of authors, Annie and Tilman.

I continue to miss you all and send my love,

Stephani (Mom)

Next: Notes from Bhutan

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